Something that is often overlooked when we get on a new bike is the bike’s ergonomics. Making your bike fit you is vital, but how many riders know how to accomplish it?
Every rider is a different shape, weight, and height, with different length arms, legs, and even fingers! Look at someone that has just gotten behind the wheel of a new car – they will always adjust the seat and rear-view mirror to suit their size.
That means every bike is going to need to be adjusted slightly differently to fit each individual rider for the best experience. Sure, you can ham-fist a bunch of different bikes if you’re just test-riding them, but if your regular bike isn’t set up perfectly for you, you won’t enjoy it nearly as much as you could.
It’d be like wearing a helmet that doesn’t fit you properly – just plain annoying after a while. And for such a simple (and free!) task, why wouldn’t you do it?
What does it mean?
Simply, making a bike fit you means adjusting the controls so you’re comfortable and can reach everything without straining. The brake and clutch levers, gear shifter, and rear brake pedal should all be set to fit your body type.
Usually, this requires a few pretty simple turns with a spanner, nothing too complicated! Having your bike set up properly can transform the ride, from being difficult and awkward to being easy and enjoyable.
First of all, let’s look at the handlebar positioning. When you’re sitting on the bike, with your feet up on the pegs and your hands on the bars (in your normal riding position), there should be a straight line from your forearms, through your wrists, to the back of your hands.
You shouldn’t have any ‘twist’ in your wrist, left or right, to grip the bar naturally. If you do, then the handlebars need either adjusting or replacing with an aftermarket bar.
Dirt bike (single-piece) handlebars are fixed, only offering adjustment by being rotated up or down in the bar risers. Make sure any adjustments you make still clear the fuel tank at full steering lock, as well as any plastics (if your bike has them!) For optimum performance, the rise of the handlebar should be relatively in-line with the angle of the forks, so you’re not putting adverse pressure on the bars when you hit the bigger bumps, that way the forks soak up the hit – not the handlebar.
Different aftermarket bars offer different heights and end grip angles, so you’re not stuck with what the manufacturer has provided.
Once you’ve got your handlebars comfortable, now it’s time to adjust your lever height and reach. The mounts for your brake and clutch levers will be bolted to the bars, and by rotating the mount on the bar you can adjust how high the levers sit. In your normal riding position, with your fingers stretched out over the levers, your wrists should again be nice and straight, the same as if you were just gripping the bars without reaching for the levers.
Also, hopefully your levers have an inbuilt adjustment to set how far the lever is from the bar – a good setting is to have the levers at the same length as your knuckle just back from your fingertip on your pointing finger. This allows you the most pull and precision on the lever.
Something to take note of, most riders will have to decide whether they want their levers positioned in a standing or sitting riding position, as their ergonomics change depending on how you ride the bike!
Throttle and (non-hydraulic) clutch cables can be adjusted as well, and are almost always set very loose from the manufacturer. Some riders prefer to have their cables set fairly tight, to minimize free play, and prevent the throttle being snatchy or jerky.
Beware though, if you set your cables too tight, you may get unintentional throttle pull or clutch activation when you turn the bars to full lock and pull the cables tight against the bike’s frame. Make sure you leave a small amount of slackness in the cables to prevent this. The benefits of having your cables set nicely, apart from better feel, is that the mechanism will operate (either throttle or clutch) as soon as you start to work the controls – useful for when you’re trying to get back on the power as you exit a turn or need to change gear in a hurry!
As every rider has different length legs, the rear brake pedal and gear shift lever on each bike needs to be adjusted to suit its rider. Riders with shorter legs will have a shallower angle of their ankle and foot position compared to riders with longer legs.
As such, the placement of the rear brake pedal and gear shift lever needs to be adjusted to suit each rider’s style. Even changing footwear can affect where you need your foot controls to be. Thicker racing style boots might mean you need to lift your gear shift lever (so you can still get your toes under the lever to upshift), compared to less ‘chunky’ style riding footwear.
Different makes and models of bikes will have different ways of adjusting the gearshift lever and rear brake pedal up and down, to suit each different rider.
Getting your bike setup correct for your riding position will make riding more enjoyable, less of a strain on your arms and wrists, and make you much more comfortable on your bike. Take the time to work out where you need your bars, levers, and pedals to be for you and your riding style. In effect, making your bike more ergonomic will make you safer on the road as well, being less distracted by a bike that isn’t awkward to control. Making your bike ‘user-friendly’ should be the very first thing you do to it!